Trauma triggers can be difficult to navigate, and can often cause a range of uncomfortable emotional and physical reactions. It is important to understand what triggers are and how they work, to develop strategies to manage them effectively.
In this article, we will explore what trauma triggers are, how to identify them, and some effective techniques for dealing with them.
You don’t need to remain a victim of your trauma, read on to empower yourself to create change.
What are Trauma Triggers?
A trigger is a person, place, feeling, or event that reminds you of a past traumatic experience creating a stress-based physical or emotional response. The reminder can occur consciously but usually, it occurs unconsciously.
Triggers can be internal feelings such as loneliness, feeling controlled, or feeling abandoned. They can also be external factors such as certain dates, specific places, or being touched in a certain way. Triggers can cause a range of reactions, including anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, or physical symptoms such as sweating or nausea. Triggers and their intensity vary from person to person, they may also be specific or varied within yourself.
For example, a person who has experienced a car accident may experience a trigger because of the sound of screeching brakes. Someone who has been significantly betrayed may experience a trigger from certain words of a loved one or feelings of vulnerability. Trauma triggers can also be less obvious, such as a certain tone of voice, facial expression, or emotional energy.
A trauma trigger will bring your bodily experience back to the moment of the initial event, this may feel as if you are reliving the trauma. Any highly emotional or ongoing event that is not able to be processed can become a traumatic event. So, no event that’s been traumatic to you is “too small” or irrelevant.
Identifying Trauma Triggers
Healing from trauma is challenging and takes patience and time. It may be tempting to try and ignore the trauma or to “just move on”. However, it is best to identify your triggers to learn how to manage them instead of avoiding them.
Identifying the events that trigger you is the first step towards managing them effectively. This involves becoming aware of the things that cause you to suddenly feel anxious, fearful, or overwhelmed. This can be a difficult process, as triggers can be unpredictable and may arise in unexpected situations.
One way to identify triggers is to keep a journal of your reactions to different situations or events. Journaling helps you to see these events with perspective and to feel in control of your life.
When you start to feel a trigger response, write down:
- A name for the trigger
- How it was generated (by an internal feeling and/ or external event)
- What is the reaction in your body and mind?
- Any beliefs underlying your feelings
Remember to be kind and non-judgemental towards yourself during this process. You may also find it helpful to speak with a counsellor, who can help you to identify triggers and understand them with self-compassion.
How to Deal with Trauma Triggers
Even if you aren’t able to fully identify your triggers, there are several techniques you can use to manage them effectively. Here are some strategies to help you when dealing with trauma triggers:
Grounding and Relaxation Techniques
After experiencing a trigger, it is necessary to take time to allow your nervous system to recover. Grounding techniques involve using your senses to focus on the present moment and reduce feelings of anxiety or overwhelm. Some effective grounding techniques include deep breathing, visualisation, or focusing on physical sensations such as the feeling of your feet on the ground. One method you can try is the square breathing technique.
Relaxation techniques such as calming meditation, or yoga can also be effective in reducing feelings of anxiety or stress. These techniques help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s relaxation response.
2. Cognitive Techniques
Cognitive techniques involve changing the way you think about a situation or event, to reduce feelings of anxiety or fear. For example, you may reframe a trigger as a reminder of your strength and resilience, rather than a threat to your safety. You may also challenge negative thoughts or beliefs that contribute to your feelings of anxiety or fear.
This can be difficult to do while the body is in a state of stress. Practicing the above grounding and relaxation techniques first may be essential. In all cases, we want to recognise the trauma without falling victim to the story. One technique is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy used at Redlands Counselling Service.
3. Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing yourself to the trigger in a controlled environment, to reduce your fear and anxiety over time. This can be a difficult process and should be done with the guidance of a mental health professional.
Self-care is an important part of managing trauma triggers, as it helps to reduce stress and promote emotional well-being. Self-care can include activities such as exercise, spending time in nature, getting enough sleep, or spending time with supportive friends and family.
Add self-care activities to your weekly calendar to create a healthy self-care routine.
Trauma triggers can be difficult to manage, but with the right strategies and support, it is possible to reduce their impact on your daily life. Remember that everyone's journey is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. With time, patience, and self-compassion, it is possible to heal from trauma and move forward in a positive direction.
Matthew Vincent at Redlands Counselling Service is here to help you manage your trauma triggers and overcome trauma difficulties.
Contact Matt for an appointment via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1300 241 667.